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Journal Sustainability: Virginia Research Libraries and Big Deals

Information about negotiations with Elsevier.

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2022 Renewal

Negotiations with Elsevier for 2022 renewal were carried out in December 2021. For ODU's current subscriptions, see the "ODU's Elsevier Journals" tab at left. 

Virginia Research Libraries (VRL) and Big Deals


ODU Libraries are a member of the Virginia Research Libraries (VRL) group, which consists of seven public academic research libraries:

  • George Mason University
  • James Madison University
  • Old Dominion University
  • University of Virginia
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Virginia Tech
  • William and Mary
What is a Big Deal?

“Big deals” for journal content are similar to cable television “deals” that bundle channels into an attractive package but leave the subscriber without the option to save money by only paying for channels they routinely watch.


VRL formed in 2001 to negotiate a “big deal” license for online access to Elsevier journals. With the current budget environment, in Fall 2020, VRL began taking a close look at the five-year Elsevier license agreement which was set to expire December 31, 2021. Six members of the group successfully negotiated to break their big deals and cut their 2021 payments by ~50%.

 April 2, 2021: Read a summary of the VRL process:

 With 50% Cut, Virginia Research Libraries Recalibrate Relationship with Elsevier

Shared Costs

VRL cost sharing is allocated on the basis of prior use, collection expenditures, and enrollment. Below is the allocation of costs for 2020 and 2021.

Institution Allocation 2020 2021
University of Virginia 27.11% $2,634,700 $ 2,740,100
Virginia Tech University 22.48% $2,184,900 $ 2,272,300
Virginia Commonwealth University 20.44% $1,987,200 $ 2,066,600
George Mason University 11.78% $1,141,400 $ 1,187,000
Old Dominion University 8.39% $   815,800 $    848,400
William & Mary 5.03% $   489,000 $    508,500
James Madison University 4.77% $   463,200 $    481,800
Total   $9,716,200 $10,104,700

Problem Statement

The Big Deal creates two key problems for VRL institutions.

1.  The prices associated with Big Deals are too high, and have grown too fast, relative to the value of the journal titles they contain. Big Deal prices reflect monopoly power and sharp bargaining practices. The academic journal ecosystem is dominated by five highly profitable commercial firms: Elsevier, Sage, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley. The portion of Big Deal content that scholars cite has gone steadily down over the years, reflecting increasing bloat in the overall package.

Big Deals consume a portion of VRL budgets that exceeds their value to our researchers, crowding out other investments and threatening to undermine our support for broad and diverse research collections.

At ODU, Elsevier consumes 22% of the Libraries’ materials budget. 

A growing cohort of research institutions have broken up their Big Deals and realized substantial savings, balancing their budgets and addressing other unmet research needs without harm to the research enterprise. At a time when all VRL institutions are asked to tighten our budgets due to the COVID crisis, these deals are prime targets for reduction.

2.  The commercial publishing model is misaligned with our values. It relies on appropriating faculty work and prestige, locking it up behind paywalls, and selling it back to us, reducing access to Virginia research and blunting its impact in the process.

In the commercial publishing model, funding for research (including peer review) comes from research institutions, governments, and others, but when a scholarly article is accepted by a commercial journal, authors typically sign away their rights or else pay high article processing charges (APCs) to make their work available through open access. To be sure, commercial publishers provide infrastructure such as editorial staff, content platforms, and distribution networks, but they do not charge based on the cost or value of these services. Instead, they charge based on the value of faculty copyrights (in the case of subscriptions) and the prestige associated with journal titles (in the case of APCs). This model diverts billions of dollars from investment in research into the coffers of a few commercial firms, and in the process it makes publicly funded research harder to access and reuse. As such, the commercial scholarly publishing model is fundamentally broken and misaligned with our mission and values as public institutions.

In sum, the Elsevier Big Deal and others like it are unsustainable. Ending or fundamentally reforming these models is necessary if we are to continue to serve our mission as public research institutions. The VRL Group, including ODU Libraries, has started this process with the Elsevier Big Deal.

Letters from VRL Deans

On January 19, 2021, members of the Virginia Research Libraries (VRL) group submitted information to update our communities about the completion of the Elsevier negotiation for 2021. Read the update from Stuart Frazer, ODU Interim University Librarian.

The following open letter was prepared by the Deans and Directors of the seven research libraries at public doctoral institutions in Virginia and  was released on April 9, 2019. It is part of an ongoing conversation with our campus communities about responsible stewardship of our investments in research.


Our Commitment to ODU Faculty and Students

We assure you that the ODU Libraries are committed to providing access to materials critical for research and teaching. We want to ensure that our spending commitments align with community needs, that we are responsible stewards of our budget in a rapidly evolving information landscape, and that we contain and control costs wherever possible.

Our commitment is to get you what you need in the most timely manner possible, whether through direct subscription, interlibrary loan and rapid document delivery, or access to venues that provide open access to the same subscription materials.
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